Terror on the Chesapeake-1813

Rear Admiral Cockburn

Rear Admi­ral Cock­burn

The War of 1812 did not start in earnest for those on Chesa­peake Bay until 1813. Rear Admi­ral Sir George Cock­burn was giv­en the task: ruin coastal trade, destroy sup­plies of grain and live­stock, and ter­ror­ize the pop­u­la­tion in gen­er­al. In late April he reached Kent Coun­ty, Mary­land. His force con­sist­ed of one 74 (a gun ship), three frigates, two brigs, two schooners, and a num­ber of ten­ders and barges. The British raid­ed How­ell Point and bom­bard­ed the land throw­ing shot as far as a mile from shore. At one farm they robbed a smoke­house, hen­house and sheep pen, and killed cat­tle. The mili­tia arrived in time to pre­vent the ene­my from car­ry­ing off the cat­tle and to fire at the retreat­ing boats.

The British con­tin­ued up the bay, lsy­ing waste by plun­der­ing French­town, and raid­ing and burn­ing Havre de Grace.

Cock­burn next turned to George­town, but he was frus­trat­ed by the intri­ca­cy of the Sas­safrass Riv­er. He kid­napped a local res­i­dent to act as his pilot and sent word that if the res­i­dents didn’t resist, George­town would be spared and pro­vi­sions they took paid for. How­ev­er the mili­tia, 400 strong, opened fire. When the British advanced, the mili­tia aban­doned the fight and melt­ed away. The British torched thir­teen dwellings and out­build­ings, cobbler’s shop, tav­ern, a gra­nary and store­house. How­ev­er, some homes were saved. (Local leg­end has it that the British spared sev­er­al homes due to the actions of  Miss Kit­ty Knight, a local lady of esteem, who stood up to the British when they were about to burn the home of one of her elder­ly neigh­bors. The Kit­ty Knight house still stands.)

Kitty Knight House today

Kit­ty Knight House today

As Cock­burn and his forces returned to the Chesa­peake the news of burn­ing and loot­ing had its effects. Resis­tance had died. The Brits paid for sup­plies and returned the pilot to his home. How­ev­er, they came back in August with a dif­fer­ent intent.

This is anoth­er blog of my “His­to­ry of The War of 1812 on Chesa­peake Bay” series. Since my next mys­tery will take place dur­ing a reen­act­ment of that war, I’ve dis­cov­ered many inter­est­ing facts I like to share, also, a few facts I thought I knew that weren’t exact­ly true.

 

 

War of 1812 in Havre de Grace

Havre de Grace in 1813

Havre de Grace in 1813

This com­ing sum­mer my new mys­tery, For­got­ten Body, will be released. Since it cen­ters around a reen­act­ment of the War of 1812, I am shar­ing some of my research. What did the area look like? This dio­ra­ma made to rep­re­sent Havre de Grace at the time shows a sparse­ly set­tled area.

Havre de Grace sits on the shore of the Susque­han­na Riv­er in Mary­land. On May 2, 1813, the British under Admi­ral Cock­burn attacked and burned most of the hous­es in the town. Sev­er­al reports from that time tell the sto­ry. The Admi­ral planned to bypass Havre de Grace until he saw an Amer­i­can flag fly­ing and some­one shot can­non fire. That was prob­a­bly John O’Neill. He stood his ground, fir­ing until the can­non back­fired on him, forc­ing him to leave. How­ev­er, he did join oth­ers with their mus­kets.

O'Neill At The Cannon

O’Neill At The Can­non

The 40 local mili­tia, most­ly old­er men, wise­ly retreat­ed in the face of an over­whelm­ing force after one was killed. John O’Neill was cap­tured. He was to be exe­cut­ed the next day, how­ev­er his 15-year-old daugh­ter rowed out the admiral’s ves­sel to plead for her father’s life. Since she had the papers that proved he was a mil­i­tary offi­cer and not a civil­ian, he was released. The sur­viv­ing arti­cles hint that her come­ly ways and brav­ery affect­ed the admi­ral. In any event, he gave her his gold-mount­ed tor­toise­shell snuff box. (Exact­ly what any teenag­er would love to have.)

Oth­er sto­ries may not have been authen­ti­cat­ed. One I heard was that the admi­ral declined to burn the home of a wid­ow since she had no hus­band fight­ing against Moth­er Eng­land. (I must admit, that is the sto­ry I used in my upcom­ing mys­tery.)

Ques­tion: When the entire sto­ry is a fab­ri­ca­tion, must the his­to­ry be absolute­ly authen­tic?

My answer: Some­times. If the his­to­ry is pre­sent­ed as authentic—you bet your life. I’ll make it as authen­tic as I can. If the his­to­ry is admit­ted­ly augmented—hey the writer/history doesn’t tell every­thing. And, if the his­to­ry is pre­sent­ed as a fabrication—go for it! (I under­stand that was the think­ing behind Uni­corn West­erns.)

What is your answer?